View from the Zoo: Reindeer arrival heralds start of festive season

Reindeer, Gunter and Esker at Flamingo Land.
Reindeer, Gunter and Esker at Flamingo Land.

Christmas is on its way and in preparation Flamingo Land has welcomed its very own reindeer.

In the wild reindeer live in arctic and subarctic regions. They are brilliantly adapted to living in cold and snowy conditions. They use their antlers for display and fighting but also use them as snow ploughs to clear paths through the thick snow.

Commonly deer lose and re-grow their antlers annually and reindeer are no exception. Each year their antlers are larger than the previous meaning that you can tell how old a reindeer is by the size of their antlers.

Antlers are covered in a network of blood vessels and have a special type of fur called velvet. Reindeer are the only type of deer where both males and females have antlers.

At Christmas-time the male’s antlers have already fallen off with only the females remaining thus Santa’s sleigh pulling team are an all female crew.

Reindeer have a few other adaptations for life in the snow. The knees of reindeer make a clicking sound as they walk. This enables reindeer to find each other in blizzards even when they cannot see. Their hooves also adapt to the different conditions of the ground. The hooves become hairier and harder in winter to act as snow shoes and become soft and spongy again in spring. In the coldest weather reindeer also grow more fur around their mouths, like a fury moustache to keep them warm.

Whilst in the UK Santa traditionally uses reindeer to help him deliver presents, he uses different animals in other parts of the world.

In Sweden the Yule goat visits households to ensure that Christmas preparations are underway, while in Australia, Christmas songs tell of Santa Claus giving his reindeer a rest and using kangaroo to deliver presents instead.

Flamingo Land’s reindeer, Gunter and his sister Esker, can be seen as part of the Storytime with Santa experience every weekend in the run-up to Christmas and throughout the school Christmas holidays.